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USM contributes to CDC understanding of COVID-19 spread

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Faculty and staff from the University of Southern Maine contributed to a new analysis and narrative being used by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control to better understand the spread of COVID-19.

Their report examines an August wedding in rural Maine and COVID-19’s tragic reach across hundreds of miles, eventually infecting at least 177 people. Of those, seven people were hospitalized and seven died. The report was published in the U.S. CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the agency’s primary vehicle for scientific publication of timely, authoritative and objective public health information and recommendations.

The USM contribution included outbreak investigations by Sarah Bly, Megan Kelley and Craig Rothfuss  — all School of Nursing epidemiology staff embedded with the Maine CDC —  and Sara Huston, an associate research professor at the Cutler Institute. Other contributors include corresponding author Parag Mahale of the U.S. and Maine CDC and Sara Robinson and Siiri Bennett (Maine's State Epidemiologist) of the Maine CDC.

The report includes detailed numbers and dates on the spread of the disease, charting its spread from the intimate wedding to infections at a nursing home and a county jail.

The virus’s spread across the distances from a small event in a remote location should serve as a warning, said Huston, who helped craft the narrative.

“It travelled hundreds of miles and made so many people ill,” Huston said. “We were able to tie all the pieces together.” 

In several key moments, the analysis found that people were not performing some commonly recommended tasks: wear a mask, maintain social distancing, wash your hands frequently, avoid gatherings and stay home when feeling ill.

Several Maine media outlets — including the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News — have written about the report.

Maine's CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah praised the report’s contributors during his Nov. 13th briefing, according to the Portland Press Herald.

“It was published in the U.S. CDC’s flagship journal … and we did that for a couple of reasons, the first was we wanted to make sure that the other epidemiologists around the globe who are contending with COVID-19 have the benefit of understanding what we had uncovered with that outbreak,” said Shah in the Press Herald. “The second was we wanted to draw attention to just how far and wide and quickly and silently the virus can spread.”